When short & sweet falls short

The dangers of the 15 second advertising slot.

KISS – Keep It Short & Simple. We’ve heard the saying many a time before, and today its an axiom for video advertising. Once upon a time the focus for brands was winning in the three-minute advertising space and having shorter edits of the same ad available to be plugged into any discounted slot that the media buying agency happened to provide as a free addendum to their media plan. Advertising breaks on television average 16 minutes per hour in the US and 8 – 12 minutes in the UK. Yet the average length of video advertising for brands today on Youtube is 15 seconds.

Today marketers face target audiences that are not only highly fragmented with individualistic tastes but who actively seek out specific content that connects to their interests. YouTube rules the roost for this content. No mystery then unless you signed up for You Tube Premium you are assailed with a slew of advertising pre-rolls and inserts that marketers today profess to be the ‘gold format’ – the 15 second ad clip.

Let’s take 10 seconds to think about that. 15 seconds for marketers to find a golden goose to sway an ever-limited attention span and to tell a tale that is well remembered. Seems like a tall order for something so short.  As an advertising practitioner I must acknowledge that I don’t consume ads quite like the normal consumer does. Sure I actively use Ad Blockers, but every now and then I actively seek out advertising time and again to see what Ad Land is churning out these days. Now since most of the video content I consume is streaming and advertising free – one of the main sources of getting to trending ads are – you guessed it, YouTube.

Specifically, the YouTube advertising leaderboard. Now usually some of the choicest pick of advertising is round the festive corner or pegged to a sporting event like the Super Bowl or the Olympics. And to be honest it’s been a while since I spied the leaderboard with the intent of watching every single ad in the top ten ranking. When I did so in the week of 20th August 2019 it was glaringly obvious that brands have given agencies a mandate to present work in the 15 second clip format. Yet truth be told after watching all those ads, the 15 seconds don’t really register.

To put this in context, the average reading speed is 200 words a minute, that’s 50 words in 15 seconds. With the average rate of speech being slower at about 150 word’s per minute. This translates into a message that really needs to be quite direct or simple in its twist to be comprehensible. This the tweet format for video advertising. In fact, I would wager a bet that there is but a marginal difference between a 15 second video and an animated GIF. The later might just trump because GIF’s by the very nature of their format are more likely to be viewed more than once (since they loop and you’d be less likely to skip a GIF than a video).

So how much can you say in 15 seconds that’s short and sweet and memorable. The bitter truth is not much. In most cases creativity took a back seat, except perhaps for the Subaru Forrester ad that put a puppy in the back. But even there I am not sure how much brand recall is going to be there for an advertising like that. I personally had to check the ad again since I thought the ad was for a Volvo (I couldn’t honestly recollect the car make – a problem when you involve pets in car advertising.) Some of the ads that did put a smile on my face were for technique and I didn’t quite remember the product at the end of the day. True, I wasn’t the target audience, and these aren’t brands I can pick up from a supermarket in my part of the world. But some would argue if the advertising were truly effective, I would still remember the brand, wouldn’t I?

Yes the 15 second video slot is perfect for reinforcement of a message, instead of trying to build brand awareness. I wouldn’t be surprised that the volume of media buy who have to go up to generate the effective recall of a longer advertising spot. Some things just don’t work in this format. Like a nice ad jingle. But a musical note sign-off would help build recall. At the end of the day a smaller format needs to work twice as hard to be an effective advertisement. Otherwise gone in 15 seconds will just fizzle out.

YouTube ads leaderboard: 2019 bumper ads edition

  1. Subaru Forester https://youtu.be/K_4EdnR2MjQ
  2. Eggo Waffles https://youtu.be/Mp8vhk622Ko
  3. Frito Lays Variety Packs – https://youtu.be/bVvXZCzODr4
  4. Reese’s Thins  https://youtu.be/uVRF-ws4w9U
  5. Fridgidaire https://youtu.be/lw7ngsbhEgY
  6. Cheetos Win what you see – https://youtu.be/SJ9wz25CJSE
  7. Dove shattering beauty stereotypes – https://youtu.be/s1icgCUXwr8